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Hired Men In The Red River Valley


Mitchell Burton


As we think of the Red River Valley, we see the vast areaof land that was once prairie, flat and flowing with rich grasses. In the1880's, Minnesota waged a vigorous drive to attract newcomers. The railroadssent pamphlets to Europe describing the opportunities of Minnesota: "Theland is one of the richest farming areas in the entire world." Soon,flocks of people from Germany, Norway, and Sweden came to settle in ourstate. many came even farther north to the Red River Valley. As more ofthis land was cultivated, and the livestock abounded, more men were neededto tend to it. Not all men who wanted to farm had the means to buy landor enough land to produce enough money for their families, so these menhired out to work on farms.

The hired men lived on the farm that they worked on. Ifthey were just men, they would sleep and live in a bunkhouse. But, if theman had a wife and family, they would live in a little house on the farmthey worked on.

Some of the men would live about two miles or more awayand then they had to walk or ride, first by horseback and later by automobile.

If there were many men working on a farm, the duties wereusually divided among them. Such as, cooking, caring for the livestock,cleaning the barns and repairing all the machinery.

The hired men didn't get paid much. Some men were paidin flour, bacon and eggs. Those that received wages started anywhere fromfifty cents to a dollar a day. Some were paid in both produce and cash.

Hired men nowadays get from $1.50 to $3.00 or more an hour. They get paid better now than they did in the early days.

The hired men do the same kind of work today as they didin the early days. But today farms have huge tractors and big farm machineryso they get done quickly without having to hire extra help.

Some farmers today don't have hired men. But some farmershave big operations so they have to hire at least one man.

My father, Orval Roberts, once was a hired man. He waspainting a big barn, for some reason, he started at the top. His ladderwas standing on a hay wagon. As he climbed to the top of the ladder withhis paint and brush, the paint fell down and hit the hay wagon. Red paintspilled all over the wagon.

Maurice Goode is one of today's "Hired Men". He first hired out on the Raymond Erickson farm by Kennedy in 1947. Heearned $200 a month plus room and board.

He was 14 years old when he started to drive a tractor. When they were threshing, they used crews made up of 12 men working atonce. The farm women were busy bringing meals out to the men.

Days on the farm started early at 4:00 in the morning theywould go out and take care of the animals. The hired men would go out andfeed the livestock before they started their busy day.

One day, when Mr. Goode was taking some manure out to thefield, a rabbit jumped out and scared the horses. The horses took off witha jerk and Mr. Goode fell back right into the manure. The horses took offhome and he walked home looking like a pig.

Another time he went out to the field to check the cattle,while the bull took after him. He rolled under the fence, the bull ranto the gate that was open. Then he ran over to a tractor and bot behindit and then he was safe.

As accidents can happen, once while shingling, he felloff the roof. He was not hurt, just shaken up.

Of all Mr. Goode's activities on the farm, he enjoyed drivingthe tractors out in the fields. Mr. Goode retired from farming May 1, 1971.

As the years go by, we see the hired men slowly being replacedby machines. But all the machines have to be run by man, and as the farmerhas only so many hours a day to work, there will always be hired men. Manyhigh school boys have started their earning years by working on a farm andenjoying the hard work, sweat, and out of doors.


Goode, Maurice, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 14, 1974

Roberts, O. A., Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 14, 1974


Roberts, O. A., Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 14, 1974